Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Backwards Look at Liability

I've been told on several occasions to be careful how I promote barefoot activity. The concerned persons say I might end up liable if people end up hurting themselves. This is a completely backwards and thoroughly confusing concept to me.

How is it that our society's collective thinking has gotten so twisted that we now believe that I could be liable if people use their feet as nature intended and that shoe companies are free from liability for weakness, stiffness, skin conditions and other ailments that are caused or exacerbated by their products? Do you see how topsy turvy that thinking is?

I wonder how many billions of dollars have been spent in the U.S. in the last half century to pay for the various treatments of ailments caused - or at least exacerbated - by shoes including...

  • Arthritis
  • Plantar fasciitis
  • Fallen arches
  • Bunions
  • Hammertoes
  • Morton's Neuroma
  • Corns
  • Callouses
  • Dry/cracked skin
  • Toenail fungus
  • Athlete's foot
  • Hangnails
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Stress fractures
  • Fractures
  • Sprains
  • And more!

I assert that a great number of these ailments would have never occurred if people had gone barefoot more. Would injuries have happened to barefoot persons? Sure, but I'd bet it'd be far fewer than many would like to believe and that the overall costs of treating such problems would have been less.

If I would be liable for someone who goes barefoot getting injured, why aren't the shoe manufacturers liable for all the ailments listed above that their products may have caused for their customers?

It would be interesting to see how a class-action lawsuit against shoe companies would play out. Would it be thrown out by a judge? Would the plaintiffs successfully plead their case that shoe companies sold their products knowing full well that they could cause these ailments in customers without warning them of such dangers? Would the defense actually try to convince the court that shoes don't cause any of these ailments or that shoe wearers should have known the risks involved?

This feels a lot like the lawsuits that were successfully brought against the cigarette industry years ago. These huge companies spent loads of money in reparations after they'd been found guilty of duping and damaging the American public to make a buck. Warning labels were required on EVERY pack of cigarettes thereafter. The shoes available for sale and use today are just as bad for the feet as cigarettes are for the lungs, but many people don't know it.

Daniel Howell, PhD, author of The Barefoot Book and a professor of biology, believes that sellers of high heeled shoes should put warning labels on them. I agree. How many women would stop wearing heels if they knew that 20,000 women go to the hospital each year due to heel-related injuries? How many women would stop wearing heels if they knew they were far more likely to develop bunions, hammertoes, Morton's Neuroma, corns and other ailments because of them? Are the high heel manufacturers telling their customers this vital information? NO, but they should be.

If someone wants to sell us footwear or cigarettes, we should go into the purchase knowing what risks are ahead of us. Most importantly, if we want to opt out of using such products, we have every right do so and should not be forced by anyone to use products that will likely cause us some harm.

Worth noting is that no one had to convince anyone else that breathing without smoke in your lungs is a good, natural thing. That said, why does society put the burden of proof on barefooters that going barefoot is good, natural and acceptable behavior? As I've stated on this blog before, barefoot is the baseline. It is the natural condition for our feet, just as breathing non-smoky air is for our lungs. Sure, there are risks involved, but we understand that as part of our human nature. That said, I can't tell you how many barefooters have been told to put on shoes for their "safety."

Imagine if a restaurant manager changed the way you dine for your "safety.":
"Good evening, sir. I see you ordered the steak. Because of that I'm going to have to ask you to wear these protective gloves while you use your steak knife to cut the food. We don't want you cutting yourself. Alisha here will also be making sure that you've chewed each bite thoroughly and that you're not speaking before you swallow each bite. We don't want you choking, after all. Just looking out for your safety!"
When we use a steak knife with bare hands, we know we must be careful lest we get cut. When we eat steak we know we must be careful not to choke. Likewise, when we go barefoot we understand we must be careful not to step on something dangerous or stub our toes. We don't need someone coddling us and protecting us from things we already know and understand! What we DO need is more public education on the harm that shoes are actually doing to our feet.

What do you think? Should shoe manufacturers be held liable for selling the public on products that exacerbate foot ailments? Should shoes come with warning labels? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Barefooter Went to Camp

I recently spent six days as a counselor at a summer church camp for middle school kids. I haven't been to this or any other camp for four years - a span that predates my time as a full-time barefooter - so I wanted to see how things would go with maintaining a fairly barefoot lifestyle. I say this because the camp does have a rule that shoes are required at all times. I came to discover that this rule had several fortunate exceptions.

The camp directors, with whom I have been friends on Facebook for many years, were all aware of my barefoot lifestyle as we staff all gathered on Monday evening of last week. I had told Carol, the camp's liaison to the sponsoring church, ahead of time that I planned to be barefoot all the way up to the point that campers arrived midday on Tuesday. She said, "Okay."

My intent during the camp was to respect the rules of the campground by setting a good example for the kids while they were on campus. I would wear minimalist footwear when out and about, but go barefoot in our lodge room -- it's a pretty swank campground, so there's no tents or anything.

It turns out that I had other opportunities to go barefoot and that former emphases from years ago on wearing shoes had been relaxed quite a bit. It used to be that flip flops were officially discouraged because they still exposed campers' feet to rocks, sticks and other undesirables. Close-toed, secure shoes were what was recommended. Not anymore. The informational materials only said that shoes or sandals were required at all times.

The interior of the tabernacle building
Even so, there were many occasions that other campers and I would slip off our flip flops or other footwear and go barefoot or just in socks. This was a frequent occurrence at the "tabernacle," an open-sided building in which we held most of our "indoor" all-camp activities. The floor of the structure is a smooth concrete slab, so it was very barefoot friendly. Many of us also slipped off our shoes at the nightly campfires, even going up front to perform skits sans footwear. I taught two hour-long classes - both indoors - each full day of the camp. I'd slip off my shoes upon arriving at each of them and teach barefoot. As the week went on, other campers took my lead and kicked off their shoes during class, too! When at the pool, most people went barefoot as well, naturally.

Shoes were used most when traveling between locations and at mealtimes in the dining hall. Because of the high amount of heat and the fact that many roads around the campground are gravel, going barefoot from place to place wasn't the easiest thing to do, even for me. There was one time, however, that I walked barefoot from the lake up to our mini lodge because my Vibram Fivefingers had gotten all wet and I was none-too-interested in walking all the way back in them. Fortunately, most of the ground between those locations was paved. In the dining hall are signs that say "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service. Sorry, this even goes for camp." So we did all keep our shoes on when the campers were there, but for the three meals we staff ate before the kids arrived, I was barefoot the whole time and the kitchen staff - employees of the church-owned campground - never hassled me for it.

In general, I was very pleased with how "barefoot" I could be during the week. While I did need to wear some kind of footwear much of the time, I kept it minimal and had many periods when I could kick it off and go fully primal with my feet. I said earlier that the directors know of my barefoot lifestyle, and I did make the camp nurse aware of my chiropractor's note that I should be allowed to go barefoot. All were receptive and understanding of my choices. I think if I'd pressed the issue more I would have been allowed to go without shoes whenever I pleased, but I did want to wear something when going across the hot pavement and gravel roads.

I can't say with any certainty that my barefoot lifestyle has softened the camp leadership into being more accepting of it, but I'd like to think that. I'd also say that our youth are quite willing to go barefoot more often than adults. Middle school-aged kids haven't been fully programmed yet that shoes are necessary all the time. Even so, it was my job as staff to set a good example. That example, this time, was to only go barefoot at our destinations - an example many campers were willing to follow. It's a start.

What are your experiences with going barefoot at a campground? Have you been blocked by camp policy or the wishes of others from going without shoes there? Have you vastly expanded your preferences for going barefoot because you were camping? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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